Thinking About Change?

Change—it’s a word that for some evokes feelings of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. For others, it means a new adventure, an improvement, or a chance to discover something “new and improved.” No matter how we respond to change, in today’s world of work and life, it’s ubiquitous and has no end in sight.

Here’s what some other ‘noteworthy’ folks have said about change:

  • “Our only security is our ability to change.” (John Lilly)
  • “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.” (Bertold Brecht)
  • “Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” (Robert C. Gallagher)

And from the ancient Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus,

  • “Nothing endures except change”

Well, if you are contemplating change or currently experiencing it, particularly in your workplace, here are five steps to consider that may help make that process more successful.

  • Consider the Context
  • Dream the Doable
  • Cultivate the Culture
  • Move the Mole Hills
  • Look for Leaks


One of the most important steps in the change process is to find out what is going on, both inside and outside of your organization, understanding what may be precipitating the need for change. To understand this ‘context,’ research is necessary. It’s similar to a doctor’s diagnosis. Before treatment (or change) can begin, the cause must first be understood.


Envisioning change is great. Imaging a sense of what the future can be creates energy and commitment among those who will initiate and carry out the changes necessary to reach that desired state. However, that vision of the future must be grounded in some understanding of what can be realistically achieved. A dream of the future that is “too big” will frustrate those whose efforts, no matter how well planned and executed, can never reach such lofty and idealistic goals.


Culture is that part of an organization that expresses itself in the values, norms, attitudes, and behaviors among those who are members of such a group. Culture is reflected in the statement: “It’s the way we do business around here.” Is the culture of the organization “change friendly” or “change resistant?” As a general rule, change friendly organizations have a much better chance of success that those who are change resistant. Maintaining a culture friendly organization is a matter of cultural cultivation—helping those values, norms, attitudes, and behaviors stay alive and vibrant—ones that will sustain the change.


Those pesky mole hills. They are the bane of well-manicured lawns and their owners. They’re not huge mountains, just little mounds. And to get rid of the mole hills requires diligence not only in detecting them before they get out of hand, but also getting rid of their makers. During periods of organizational change, it’s the detection and removal of mole hills, things like pockets of resistance, unforeseen challenges, and breakdowns in the process, which are important—unlike mountains that are plainly visible and easy to detect.


The best laid plans of mice and men (and women)…. No matter how well each of the four preceding steps is accounted for, monitoring the outcomes of the change initiative is essential. Have we carried out the change according to design? Did the change produce the intended results? Do we continue to see the same results? The plumber who has designed the layout of all the water pipes for a new home and then installs them according to the plan isn’t finished until the water is turned on and a thorough inspection reveals no leaks. Change requires the same thing. And if found, the leaks must be repaired.

DittmarJimSquare02Dr. James Dittmar is the Founder, President, and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute.  Prior to this Jim founded the Geneva College M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program in 1995 and served as Chair of the Department of Leadership Studies and Director of the M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program until his retirement in 2015. Should you have any questions, comments or feedback, please contact him at



3 thoughts on “Thinking About Change?

  1. This was perfect for this week! Thank you Jim.
    We are in the process of boxing everything to move our office headquarters closer to Pittsburgh.


  2. Great blog, Jim!
    The most significant takeaway for me is “consider the context.” The adaptive challenge in the twenty-first-century is understanding how to navigate through the maze of change. To consider the context, one must understand external trends that drive change, the effects of trends, and how to make adaptive decisions with flexibility.
    Thanks for your insightful blog that provides great concepts to ensure relevance and sustainability in a global society of rapid paradigm shifts.


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